Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

With a text that exceeds three hundred thousand words, about five times as long as an average modern novel, The Fool of Quality was originally published by installment in five volumes. Although it achieved success in its original form, the book became better known through a single-volume abridgment by John Wesley. It is a didactic work that does not readily fit any traditional category. It most nearly resembles the sentimental novel, a form pioneered in English by such writers as Samuel Richardson, Laurence Sterne, and Henry Mackenzie. On the other hand, its loosely knit, episodic plot, its sporadic exotic adventures, and its idealistic theme of constantly righting wrongs link it with the picaresque tradition, specifically with Miguel de Cervantes’ El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha(1605, 1615; Don Quixote de la Mancha; 1612-1620).

The preface establishes a tone of satire; Brooke assails his society for its self-indulgence, luxury, and greed and denounces these vices as threats to the nation. Although the novel includes little direct satire, occasional character names such as Lord Freelove, Mr. Sneer, Lady Cribbage, and Miss Trinket suggest satire against the vanity and superficiality of the upper class. Despite the novel’s profession of egalitarianism, however, most of the commoners turn out to be gentle folk whose true identities have been either lost or concealed. In the end Brooke has his protagonist marry a Moroccan princess who, he has just learned, is his cousin.

In a general sense, the account of the hero’s education follows the course laid down by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Émile: Ou, De l’éducation (1762; Émile: Or, Education, 1911). Unschooled in the vanity and hypocrisy that pervade aristocratic society, Henry Clinton receives the ironic epithet “fool.” As the second son of an earl, Henry is a man of quality, yet his father expects that he will have no aristocratic responsibility. He is thus sent from home to be reared in a modest rural setting by the family of his nurse. The simplicity and beauty of nature plus the kind treatment by his foster family lay the foundation for his education in right conduct. Removed by his uncle, Mr. Fenton, Henry gains further advantage through continuing his education by acquiring sound moral principles. Mr. Fenton’s seemingly unlimited...

(The entire section is 972 words.)